The Hatchet Lady

Hatchet on wood
Picture of a hatchet: Microsoft Clipart

Running a business can be full of life lessons. Shortly after I became the managing editor of the Knoxville Focus Newspaper, I learned a very valuable lesson. A great team is worth more than gold, and that one bad apple, can spoil the whole basket.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but it has served me well over the years. I had been in management roles before, but I was never in control of who to hire and who to fire. This was my first foray into that aspect of Human Resources. I inherited a good team and everything went great for a while; but as we grew and things changed, people left for one reason or another and I found myself needing to replace team members.

After a long time employee left the front desk position, I had to begin the search for someone to fill that very important position. The person had to be good with people, able to multitask, take classified ads, invoice customers, do collections and work with route carriers, all with a pleasant attitude.

After going through countless resumes, I thought I had found the perfect candidate. On paper she had the skills, her background came back clean, she interviewed wonderfully. I thought I had found the missing piece of the puzzle.

Sometimes, what seems to be, and what actually are, can be very different things. After training was complete and a few months of settling into the position, she became comfortable, too comfortable. The nice portion of her facade began to crack away and something witchy, this way came.

At first I tried to be tactful and ask if there was a problem, then I tried to counsel, finally a write up. Other members of my team were complaining about invoices and tearsheets going to the wrong people, messages not getting to them and worse, leads not getting to them. The writing was on the wall, I was going to have to lower the ax.

It was just after Thanksgiving, and being the nice person I am, I felt that if I could just hold off until after the holidays it wouldn’t be so hard on the lady. I mean who wants to get fired at Christmas?

It just wasn’t meant to be. After walking in the office and hearing a very loud, rude conversation with a customer, I fired her on the spot and escorted her from the building. I felt horrible. I was Ebeneezer Scrooge!

Thankfully, the rest of my team breathed a collective sigh of relief and rallied around me. It was then, that I knew I had done the right thing for the business and the team.

It wasn’t until Christmas week that I knew how deeply this bad apple had actually effected everyone else.I believe in open and honest communication, so I encouraged dialog. I needed to know where I had gone wrong. Things came to light that no one wanted to talk about before, I learned a few things. we cleared the air and started fresh.

Christmas eve, my sales manager walked into my office with a gift from her and her husband. She snickered as she handed me the box. She had an air of childish mischief about her and I knew it couldn’t be good. Much to my surprise, I opened the box to find a gleaming hatchet with a huge red bow on it. Seems she had told her husband about it all and he figured that if I was going to have to give people the ax, I needed the proper equipment.

I laughed so hard I cried.

Then I hung it on the wall above my desk.

For my next 4 years at the paper, everyone I interviewed had sit across the desk from me and look at that hatchet adorned with a big red bow.

It was a constant reminder to me that sometimes you have to do the hard things, prune the deadwood from an organization, for the good of the whole vine, too keep things growing and going in the right direction.

When a prospective employee would eventually look up on the wall, I could literally see the question forming. “Why do you have a hatchet with a big red bow hanging on your wall?”

I would smile and say with a giggle, “I’m the hatchet lady.” Then in the way of explanation I told them something along the lines of, “With business management comes responsibility, and if a person’s actions harm the business the team is trying to grow, they have to be cut, regardless of the season.”

They either got the symbolism in the conversation or they left thinking I was an ax murder. Since things went really smooth after that, I’d like to think they got the symbolism.

I’m way too nice to be an ax murder, I’m just the hatchet lady.

Sidebar: For those of you who don’t know me. I’m harmless, really, with a nerdy sense of humor. Honest. 🙂

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